Sure it's a woman's right... but that doesn't mean it's fair
Father's Day might be the perfect time to rethink the question of a father's rights and responsibilities, to take some of our most cherished and unexamined slogans and see if they are fair. (This is a dangerous prospect: Obviously there is a reason we cherish and don't examine our slogans.)
Take for instance the idea of "a woman's right to choose." I believe absolutely that a woman should decide whether to terminate or go forward with a pregnancy. The man's opinion is only secondary, and if there is a conflict, entirely negligible.
But is this fair? The social scientist Dalton Conley wrote a provocative op-ed, A Man's Right to Choose in the New York Times on this subject a few years ago. He wrote, "But when men and women engage in sexual relations both parties recognize the potential for creating life. If both parties willingly participate, then shouldn't both have a say in whether to keep a baby that results?"
His reasoning sounds sensible, but the practical question of what to do if they violently disagree seems to demand a more tangible plan for resolution, and it's this I discussed with him over coffee last week. As a thought experiment, I tried to imagine I was having an irresolvable conflict with a man over an accidental pregnancy. I told Conley I just don't see a compromise: It has to be the woman's choice.
He said, "Then the man shouldn't be responsible for the baby."
Earlier in our conversation, Conley had said he is drawn to taboo, to getting people to re-examine received wisdom. I thought some more about this hypothetical baby. "You are asking people not just to rethink things but to refeel them."
He said, "Well, I am asking people to put aside their feelings and think in a more rational way."
Maybe we can assert that the woman should have the ultimate legal right to choose, but at the same time admit that right is very complicated and charged and morally fraught, that choosing something against the will of the man involved is an act of some degree of unfairness; it may be a necessary act but not an entirely unambiguous one. Our tendency is to give to the pregnant woman the moral high ground, whatever she chooses, but there may …